2017-06-08 / News

Saco postpones regulations on pot sales

By Sarah Beth Campisi
Contributing Writer

SACO – William McCall stepped up to the microphone in front of the Saco City Council. His voice was strong, even as it shook, as he spoke during public comment. McCall is a medical marijuana caregiver in Saco.

“I’ve put everything into my medical grow,” said McCall, who eventually, would like to transition his business into a small recreational grow to support his child.

“I’m a single father. It would kill everything that I’ve had,” McCall said. “What I want to say is just give it a shot.”

On May 22, Saco City Council chose to postpone a vote to prohibit sale and cultivation of recreational marijuana. According to the council, findings within the proposal did not encapsulate the purpose it was supposed to serve.

The proposal on the table read:

“The city would like to prohibit the use of recreational marijuana in manners that are against current state law. Unregulated recreational marijuana can have unintended consequences, such as impacts to other existing businesses as well as those businesses who may be considering moving to the city. For those interested in cultivation, no commercial pesticides are labeled for legal use on cannabis plants; therefore improper use of pesticides can have impacts on the consumers of the product. Secondly, any facilities use elevated levels of CO2 to increase plant growth which could lead to life safety issues. Lastly, regarding cultivation, grow rooms in the home can lead to structural issues that includes, but is not limited to electrical. From the sale side, communities have seen an increased use among teens, a spike in ‘edibles’-related emergency room visits, consumption by children and pets resulting in illness and death, and an increase in marijuana related traffic deaths.”

The state of Maine has not yet released regulations on recreational marijuana since its legalization in the 2016 November election, but is expected to release legislation on the matter in February 2018.

“We’re just trying to slow this down as we wait for the state to make regulations and rules around recreational marijuana. This does not prohibit an individual from growing it in their homes or smoking it themselves or sharing it with their friends. It prohibits retail, social clubs and grow facilities for recreational use,” said City Administrator Kevin Sutherland.

The code amendment has a one-year sunset clause, which means if passed, the amendment would be lifted in 12 months. The city would then be free to vote on its own regulations based upon the state’s decisions.

The city council wanted to postpone any decision making on the subject until Maine has released its regulations. However, the majority of the information found within Saco’s proposed prohibition were found to be incorrect by one resident.

Medical marijuana caregiver Brett Masser laid out some facts during the public comment portion of the meeting that opposed and corrected false information in Saco’s proposed ordinance. Masser runs a facility called Brigid Farms in Saco.

Masser said he counted 10 incorrect points within Saco’s proposal. Masser came prepared with academic sources, including many that used the state of Colorado as an example. Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana in November 2012.

“I’m not sure who put together this piece of text, but it’s wrought with inaccuracies,” Masser said.

According to the proposal, “Unregulated recreational marijuana can have unintended consequences, such as impacts to other existing businesses as well as those businesses who may be considering moving to the city.”

“There’s a marijuana odor ordinance in Denver, and that’s what helps marijuana businesses stay friendly with neighboring businesses,” Masser said. “In Colorado, each marijuana plant is required to submit a plan for the control of the odor, which is reviewed and then must be followed.”

The odor ordinance is enforced by the Department of Health.

Saco’s proposal claims communities that legalized cannabis have seen increases in marijuana-related traffic deaths and teen use, however these communities have recorded the opposite.

“The Journal of Law and Economics showed an 8 to 11 percent decrease in traffic fatalities during the first full year of legalization of medical marijuana,” Masser said. “Colorado saw a large drop in teen marijuana consumption immediately. Twenty-two percent down to 21.8 percent, Colorado is now ranked number one in the country for the least marijuana use between the ages of 12 and 17.”

The proposal addresses concerns with health and safety issues in regards to elevated levels of CO2 in grow facilities and pesticides within the cannabis market.

“For those interested in cultivation, no commercial pesticides are labeled for legal use on cannabis plants; therefore improper use of pesticides can have impacts on the consumers of the product,” according to the proposal. “Many facilities use elevated levels of CO2 to increase plant growth which could lead to life safety issues.”

“The Department of Agriculture regulates that and they currently approve 22 active ingredients for use on cannabis. One product specifically is called Procidic2, specifically for use in Maine,” Masser said. “The elevated CO2 levels that are being referred to in a grow environment max out at 1,500 parts per million. The Occupation Safety and Health Administration regulate at 5,000 parts per million for a healthy worker’s safety environment.”

“A local option tax is something that’s being discussed in Augusta. It’s something that I personally am supporting and interested in submitting testimony for,” Masser said.

Masser believes the local option tax is a regulation that Saco should explore further to take in extra tax revenue.

Sutherland and other city staff were responsible for writing the motion, and came under fire from city councilors.

“If the spirit is to just go with the state, that’s not the presentation here. The presentation is making vast judgments of not doing it, period. That’s where we got the reaction we’re getting. It reads like Saco’s goal is to not have any of this,” said Ward 4 Councilor Kevin Roche.

“You can prohibit it, but people are still going to grow pot and use pot. I think we are completely wasting the time of the building inspection department and the police department,” said Councilor Eric Cote of Ward 6.

“Fifty-five (55.4) percent of voters voted yes for recreational marijuana. From a political standpoint, Saco should not be antimarijuana,” Masser said.

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